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An evolving political equation

Sindh is the only province where politics has remained static since 1988. The PPP has repeatedly emerged as a major political force in the rural areas of the province while the MQM is believed to represent the urban areas.

The PPP returned as the single largest party in 1990, 1997 and 2002. However, its strength was subsequently diminished by the changing loyalties of a few of its MPAs. The outcome of the 2018 general elections predominantly depends on various factors as many aspects of the political equation in the province have changed over the last four years. This may either benefit or damage the current standing of both the major political parties of the province.

Between 2008 and 2012, there was no opposition in Sindh owing to the reconciliation policy of the then president, Asif Ali Zardari. The opposition’s momentum was built just a few months before the 2013 the election and after the promulgation of a controversial local government legislation in the province. Nationalist as well as federal and religious parties opposed the proposed law and mobilised public support against it.

At the time, it was expected that the loose alliance would field joint candidates in the election and provide a fierce competition to the PPP. However, the alliance failed to field joint candidates. This worked in the PPP’s favour and the party succeeded in securing more seats in the elections even though its share of urban seats and margin of victory on some seats decreased in comparison to the 2008 elections.

Politically, Sindh has witnessed drastic changes over the last four years. The PPP replaced its octogenarian chief minister, Syed Qaim Ali Shah, with the relatively young and energetic Murad Ali Shah. The latter is trying to alter the party’s governance style. Many new faces from other parties have also joined the PPP. Meanwhile, the MQM has been split into three groups, with the MQM-Haqqiqi already on the ground.

On the other hand, the ANP has resurfaced in Karachi following the decreased  Taliban presence in the city. The party had gained two provincial assembly seats in 2008. The PTI has lost its charm and the support it had received from the people of Karachi during the 2013 elections has gradually dwindled. This is evident from the party’s request for support from Irfanullah Marwat and the PML-F’s Sardar Rahim in the PS-114 by-elections.

The PML-N – which appears to be  gaining little ground in the political landscape of the province – has lost heavyweights such as Ghaus Ali Shah, Mumtaz Bhutto, Liaquat Jatoi, Ismail Rahu, Abdul Hakeem Baloch and Imdad Chandio. It has also detached itself from its allies like the SUP of Syed Jalal Mehmmood Shah. The PML-N is struggling to revive its political fortunes in the province by installing Muhammad Zubair as the governor. Overall, the task seems to be rather difficult.

The PML-F was – during the lifetime of Syed Shah Mardan Shah – tipped as the alternative to the PPP in the province. However, it is no longer a political force. The party’s two sitting MPAs joined the PPP. It has lost Sanghar to the PPP in the local government elections.

The Sindhi nationalists are another political force in the province. Some of them have contested elections as either independent candidates or through party platforms. But none of them – except Syed Imdad Mohammad Shah in 1988, Syed Amir Haider Shah and Ismail Rahu in 1990 and Jalal Mehmood Shah in 1997 – have succeeded in an individual capacity. These candidates contested elections on an individual basis by pursuing nationalist credentials.

A large number of Sindhi nationalists participated in the 2013 elections and failed to win a single seat. A few of them secured a reasonable number of votes in the polls. Other political forces in the province are religious parties, such as the JUI-F, the JI, the Pakistan Sunni Tehreek and the ASWJ. The support base for the JI is in the urban areas, especially Karachi. The JUI-F has a major support base in the northern districts of the province while the ASWJ and the PST have mainly received support in Karachi.

After a brief introduction of the political parties that will be vying for seats in the next elections, it is vital to elaborate on their prospects. The PPP is the largest party of the province that has remained in government since 2008. It has a strong support base in the entire province and wins most of its seats from the rural areas. The party is heavily criticised by its opponent for its inept governance and, to some extent, by its supporters for its non-delivery.

In order to achieve success in the next elections, it has adopted a strategy by engaging its most influential figures with its voter base. This has resulted in an awkward situation for the party during seat distribution. For instance, in 2013, the Mahar family of Ghotki was given four out of six seats of the district. Only time will tell how the PPP will adjust Khalid Lund and Nadir Leghari – who have recently joined the party – the sitting MPAs Mehtab Dahar and Ahmed Ali Pitafi and the Mahar family. Such a situation may arise in other areas too.

The key advantage to the ruling party of the province is a scattered opposition. Only a few influential figures are still trying to forge an election alliance. However, they have not been successful as the PML-F is in disarray. This may lead to local alliances and seat adjustments among influential figures at the district level – such as one between Ghaus Mahar, Ibrahim Jatoi and the JUI-F in Shikarpur. These loose local alliances may affect about one-and-a-half dozen NA seats which the PPP candidates won in 2013 while the number of its votes was less than the sum-total of its competing candidates.

One such constituency is NA-204 Larkana where PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is expected to contest polls. In 2013, PPP leader Ayaz Soomro won this seat. He secured 50,118 votes while the total of first and second runners-up was 32,006 and 28,744, respectively. The total of both candidates is more than Ayaz Soomro’s votes. If the Rashdi and Abbasi families of this area join hands, they may provide stiff competition to the PPP chairman.

After the exit of its heavyweights, the PML-N is in a tight spot in the province. The scramble for seats within the PPP’s ranks may result in the defection of a few electables to its fold. Otherwise, the PML-N may not find candidates within the province.

The PML-F has enjoyed a strong support base in Khairpur, Sanghar and Umerkot and its candidates have been successful. The party has faced defections recently. It will therefore be a huge bonus if the PML-F succeeds in retaining its traditional seats in Sanghar and Khairpur.

The PTI is relatively new in the political arena of Sindh. Its leadership has not spent sufficient time to garner support among the people. If it gathers a few electables, it will be in a better position. Nationalist parties have no electables within their ranks. Their few candidates in Jamshoro, Hyderabad and Sakrand have secured huge votes in the past and may do the same in 2018. But winning seats will be a major challenge. The JUI-F, on the other hand, has a stronger and more committed voter base that can give sleepless nights to opposition candidates.

A split and scattered opposition will provide an ideal scenario for the PPP to secure a victory and emerge as the largest party of Sindh. Joint opposition candidates will only pose a challenge for the party. For the opposition parties, this is the best time to start deliberating on how to resolve issues involving seat adjustments. If they fail to do so, they may face a similar situation to what they had witnessed in 2013.

The writer is a freelance contributor.

Danish Khan, "An evolving political equation," The News. 2017-07-07.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political aspects , Political fortunes , Political parties , Government-Pakistan , Political force , Democracy , Taliban , Terrorism , Irfanullah Marwat , Asif Ali Zardari , Karachi , Sindh , JUIF , PPP , ASWJ